American number two, Christina McHale, helps instruct first and second graders at the First Niagara Tennis Play Day in New Haven, CT
Christina McHale Instructs Future Competitors
New Haven, CT - Over 250 first and second graders from nine elementary schools in the New Haven area poured into the Yale Tennis Stadium on a sunny Thursday morning, eager to spend a day playing tennis.
This year marks the 11th annual First Niagara Tennis Play Day (formerly Free Lesson), where kids are provided the opportunity to play tennis in a fun, low pressure setting. To date, more than 5,000 kids have gone on to participate in New Haven’s year-round tennis programs as a result of this event.
The kids were welcomed by Anne Worcester, Tournament Director for the New Haven Open at Yale presented by First Niagara; Marikate Murren, USTA National Manager for Jr. Team Tennis; and First Niagara Representative, Marlene Piche.
As if a day away from school wasn’t exciting enough, American number two, Christina McHale, made the drive from Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey to help demonstrate what it takes to be a top tennis player.
McHale stressed the importance of staying physically fit and encouraged the students to continue playing. She also announced her entrance into the tournament.
"I was around your age when I first started playing," said McHale. "I hope you come back and watch me play this August at the New Haven Open."
In addition to the age-appropriate tennis balls and nets that the schools received on behalf of First Niagara, each child was also given two free passes to the New Haven Open at Yale presented by First Niagara.
The first laugh of the day came after Piche asked the kids if they knew what banks do. One child yelled out that banks "give you money," another added that banks "give you checks," and a third said banks "give you credit cards." The answers satisfied Piche and the kids were sent off to the tennis courts.
The First Niagara Tennis Play Day utilized smaller courts and racquets as well as slower, lighter balls that are part of the USTA’s national 10 and Under Tennis initiative. This initiative is designed to help children develop proper strokes and allows younger players to engage in rallies and have fun right from the start.
Six kids were assigned to each 10 and Under Tennis court and each court had two or three volunteers helping the children hit back and forth. Although most of the children had never played before, their enthusiasm overcame any frustration that could have occurred.
One first grader expressed her excitement by saying, "I hope my teacher signs us up for tennis." Her friends shrieked in agreement as they ran to take a water break.
Another student added, "My favorite part was when I hit the ball over the net, and I’m gonna do it again."
The teachers seemed just as excited as the kids.
"They’ll remember this forever," said first grade teacher, Lynn Davis. "The kids who had played tennis before said they loved tennis and were excited to play today. For the kids who hadn’t played, this is a great introduction to the sport and they’re having a lot of fun."
After two hours of tennis, the kids were lined up and each given a snack and goody bag.
"The First Niagara Tennis Play Day is just one example of how the New Haven Open's strategy is to leverage the excitement of professional tennis to grow participation at the community level, especially among youth," said Worcester. "But it's not all about creating tennis players, it's about providing opportunities for kids that teach them the importance of fitness and making healthy choices in their lives."
For more information on Play Days, visit www.ustanewengland.com.